Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 13 of a new online serial novel, Outside the Bubble, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
“Martin? This is Rabbi Eisenthal. How are you?”
Martin’s muscles tensed. This was the first time he was being called out of a lesson for a phone call from Canada; no one had ever called him until now. He had been the one to make the calls, a handful of times.
“I’m fine,” he said blandly.
“…You could say so.”
“From what I hear, it seems you are studying well.”
Martin stood frozen in his place. He wasn’t moved by the warm overtures. Apparently, someone in the administration reported to Rabbi Eisenthal on his academic status and his general well-being, because, after all, it was only as a result of this man’s efforts and connections that Martin had managed to get into the program altogether. Not that Martin really cared about Rabbi Eisenthal being updated about him, but if he was getting a personal phone call from Sudbury, something wasn’t right. Was the rabbi calling because he had been told that the administration was not pleased with the radical political views of the boys Martin had befriended? But it was strange that it was happening now, after he’d been sitting tight for three days, doing absolutely nothing. No, it was more likely that Rabbi Eisenthal was calling because of—
“Grandma,” he said quietly. “My grandmother.”
The secretary sitting in the office murmured something and stood up.
“That’s right,” Rabbi Eisenthal said heavily. “Your grandmother, Martin. You are right.”
“When did it happen?” When was the last time he’d spoken to her on the phone?
“Last night, Martin.”
“Was it sudden?”
“Not particularly. You know that she had been getting weaker recently. Very early this morning, she returned her soul to Heaven.”
Automatically, Martin raised his eyes to the patch of sky visible from the office window. Rabbi Eisenthal had a predilection for these somewhat grandiose expressions, but this time, it was irritating. “To Heaven,” he repeated. “And when is the funeral?”
“You aren’t planning to come, are you?”
Until that moment, Martin had not considered going. Grandma didn’t need him anymore now. But the rabbi’s comment stirred a new thought in his mind. Besides him, there wasn’t a single relative who would accompany her on this final journey. “Maybe I will,” he said. “I only had one grandmother, Rabbi. Well, one grandmother whom I knew, anyway.”
“I understand, Martin, and I sympathize for your loss, but I’m not sure it’s wise for you.”
“Why?” All of Martin’s “anti” muscles tensed up, poised for action.
“Are you sure you want to meet your friends from way back when? I think there are some who are angry at you, since you were released from prison and two of them were imprisoned instead of you.”
“But I’m not the one who ratted on them!” Martin nearly shouted.
“I believed you already then, so it’s not necessary to raise your voice, my dear boy. The problem is not what you did or did not do; the problem is what they believe and what they don’t.”
“It would only be a short visit. I think I can manage.”
“Are you sure it will be a short visit?”
“Why not? I’ll fly in for the funeral, stay a day or two, and then I’ll come back here.”
“I’m afraid that the authorities in Israel will not be too excited about letting you come back,” the rabbi said. “So if you leave there now, I imagine you’ll have to stay in Canada.”
“I really don’t think that will be the case.” This time, it was his justice reflex that tensed. “I spoke to someone…a guy…it doesn’t matter who, someone in the police or the security services, and since then I’ve been totally fine. Totally. You can ask whoever you want!”
“Perhaps it was enough to let them allow you to finish the school year, especially since they never like deporting foreign residents. It wouldn’t look good for them,” the rabbi said calmly. “But in light of the profile they have surely built about you, I’m concerned that they will use the opportunity of you leaving of your own accord to bar you from coming back.” He was quiet for a moment. “Already back when I first got you accepted into this program, it wasn’t easy, and that’s putting it mildly. They weren’t interested in taking someone with a spotty past. And yesterday, I was given to understand by the management in Canada that they will certainly not approve another year for you.” He wasn’t scolding; he never did. He was just stating the dry facts and waiting for Martin to derive his own conclusions.
But Martin’s “drawing conclusions muscle” did not always work with the same drive as his justice and “anti” reflexes. “So you mean that both don’t want me here? The Canadian managers of the program, and the Israeli part?”
“Well, I can decide that I’m not interested in being here either, and I can leave the dorm this minute.”
“Don’t be so hasty about leaving. What will be with your diploma? And besides, the minute you leave, you lose your student visa, and then you certainly have no chance with the Israeli authorities.”
“You’re saying I have no chance either way.”
“Until the end of the school year, you can lie low—that’s what you can do. Then you can stay in Israel for the rest of the year. If you don’t fly in for the funeral, of course.”
“Oh, the funeral,” Martin remembered.
“Yes, especially since I don’t know how much those who are arranging the funeral can wait for you here. You don’t have a ticket, you have nothing…how will you come on such short notice?”
“So that’s why I’m saying that it’s really not advisable for you to come in for the funeral. And still, you should try to make sure that your behavior is more than perfect, so that you don’t get deported before the school year ends. Because it really would be a shame about your diploma.”
“I don’t think they ever deported a right-wing activist before. I checked into it.”
“So try not to be the first one, okay? Take care, Martin. I hope we can share good news. Use the time you still have left in Israel to think about where you plan to go when you finish there, because I really don’t think it’s a good idea for you to come back here and fall back in with those old friends of yours.”
“Where do you suggest that I should go from here?” Martin asked.
“Maybe to a difference province in Canada, someplace that’s not close to Greater Sudbury. Or even to America. You can start working on getting a green card there.”
“And leave this land to the Arabs, huh?”
“And leave your nose out of those disputes,” the rabbi said patiently. “Have a good day Martin. Oh, and I almost forgot, please accept my condolences about your grandmother.”
“Thanks,” Martin muttered flatly.
But beneath his indifferent demeanor, it all burst open again.
Chani entered the house quietly, slipping out of her shoes. Eli was sleeping sitting up on the tiny couch, and Bracha was dozing in his arms with a bottle. She opened one eye curiously, and Chani escaped to the bedroom before her daughter would see her and decide that it was morning.
She quietly opened the closet door, looking for her long, comfortable skirt. On the side, the robe she hardly wore caught her attention, as the fabric spilled off the hanger and fell into soft pleats. It used to bother her to see it there, unused, but the new skirts she’d bought in its place were so comfortable and easy to wear that she really didn’t care anymore about not wearing the robe.
Her phone rang, the tone low. She ignored it and took out her light blue top. The phone had already rang during the lecture; it was Mali. And now it was her again. Well, her sister could be patient. Not that Chani was looking to be spiteful, but when someone generally did not answer when people called her, and then called back a day or two later murmuring excuses about how, “I couldn’t get to the phone,” then there was no reason to urgently pick up the phone when it wasn’t a good time for Chani.
She pushed aside the robe and discovered her skirt hiding behind it. Eli had no problem with her wearing the robe at home. But he thought it was not appropriate to open the door with it, or to take out the garbage while wearing it—and certainly not to wear it to the grocery. She agreed that he was right, but still, it had bothered her at first. And as much as she’d tried to put her finger on the point that bothered her, she could not. Maybe it was because of the decisive nature of it, the thought of, So, now I basically won’t be able to wear robes anymore. Or maybe it was something else.
But recently, she’d begun to get used to it.
The phone rang again and again, and Chani closed the bedroom door so that Bracha wouldn’t wake up from it. She sat down on her bed and set the pile of clothes aside. “Hello?” she said.
“Hello to you. Did you see Ima’s new granddaughter?”
Mali didn’t sound so clear; something about her speech was a bit strange. “Ima’s new granddaughter,” she said. Her “s” whistled a bit too much.
“Are you after dental treatment?”
“Finally, someone’s interested. Yes, a root canal.’
“Oish! Did it hurt? Was it bad?”
“Horrific, but this baby is more painful.”
“I’d say she’s about two weeks old. You know, the one Ima took pictures with.”
“Mali, can you explain from the beginning, please?” Chani asked patiently. “When did you see Ima taking pictures with a newborn baby? My Bracha is more than a year old, and Avigdor’s Riki is five. The rest of his kids are boys. That’s all the grandchildren. Where is there a baby girl?”
“I’m learning photography, and one of my photographer friends sent me pictures. In one of them, you see a very cute baby, together with her mother, and with our mother, in Ima’s house.” She sounded like she was nearly weeping, funny “s” sound and all. “And worst of all is the caption of the picture: ‘grandmother, mother, and daughter.’ That means that Ima is the grandmother of this baby?!”
“Obviously not. If Baruch would have gotten married and had a baby, we would have known.”
“Or Yosef,” Mali said snarkily. Chani didn’t answer.
“But she’s not Baruch’s, of course, and that’s not his wife,” Mali continued. “I called the photographer. She had no idea that Mrs. Vilensky, ‘who is sooo nice,’ is not the real grandmother of that baby, and that this excited young mother, who looks my age or younger, is the daughter of her new husband. There’s room for everyone there—interesting, isn’t it? Except for me.”
“I know that Ima’s hosting her,” Chani replied slowly. “And you can try to call and ask, but it’s possible you’d be surprised to hear that there’s room for you there, too.”
“When he is there? With his horrible outbursts? No thanks.”
“Yosef has been perfectly fine for more than two years.”
“If that’s your definition of ‘perfectly fine,’ well, then, I have no idea what will be.”
Chani wanted to say something to the effect of, “Don’t complain to anyone; this is your choice, and you know it.” But she knew there was no point in answering Mali like that.